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Friday, June 5, 2009

Plimer in the Adelaide Advertiser

Why I'd put global warming on ice

Article from: The Advertiser


May 28, 2009 11:30pm

GLOBAL warming is a load of hot air and the world is actually in an ice age, says the scientist who has made his reputation taking the contrary view.

IAN PLIMER LIKES to think of himself as a professional sceptic. He wears doubt like a badge of honour - except when it comes to himself. A decade ago the Adelaide geology professor was so outraged by a creationist minister's claims that Noah's Ark had been found in Turkey that he sued in the Federal Court. Now he has his sights set on the scientists who are predicting another apocalyptic flood; one that will make sea levels rise, melt the ice caps and change the climate of the planet.

This time Plimer, a geologist and academic with interests in the mining industry, has taken on a sea of atmospheric scientists, biologists, meteorologists and oceanographers, and declared them all wrong. Plimer's view is that man-made climate change is a myth and we should be enjoying what is a warm break between glacial stages of a prevailing Ice Age.

The fact that most climate scientists say he's talking a load of rubbish bothers him not at all. Meet him and you get the strong sense he enjoys the limelight and is blithely unaffected by criticism. Nothing challenges his view that he is right. "I look at everything," Plimer says. "I have a bigger picture of the planet." Clearly, this hands-on scientist who cut his teeth in the rough- and-tumble of the mining town of Broken Hill is not short of self-confidence.

He has been awarded the Eureka Prize twice, once for the promotion of science, and he writes not for other scientists but for ordinary people. The author of seven books, he also knows a good story when he has one. He was convinced his new book denying the science of climate change, Heaven+Earth. Global Warming: The Missing Science, would be a best-seller even when he could not find a publisher.

ABC Books was not interested, nor was Random House, which had published an earlier best-selling book, Telling Lies for God. He was also rejected by Allen and Unwin, Reed, and the niche South Australian publisher East Street. Plimer pressed on in the belief that someone would eventually wake up. He sought out Connor Court, an independent publisher based at Ballan in Victoria, that publishes Catholic books, including one by the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell (God and Caesar). Plimer called, emailed, and 10 minutes later had his proposal accepted. "We know who you are," they said, and began preparing artwork before the manuscript had even arrived. He later met the publisher, Anthony Cappello, and reassured him he had done the right thing. "I told him, 'Anthony, this is going to be the biggest book you've ever had. This book will put your kids through school'," Plimer says. "He didn't believe me but I knew it was going to be good."

On that point, Plimer is being proved right. Heaven+Earth sold more than 12,000 copies in its first two weeks and is into its third print run. It is about to be launched in the United Kingdom - he is writing an article for The Spectator magazine and will visit London shortly - and the U.S. He has spent this month flying around Australia and has been interviewed by most of the major print and electronic media.

Plimer has a message to sell that many want to hear and he is enjoying tossing grenades into the global-warming debate. He presents himself as a crusader for truth, the lone scientist willing to stand up and explode with breath-taking assuredness what he says are a concoction of myths and misinformation that a gullible and badly-informed public has been bludgeoned into believing. "I've had the temerity to say the public paradigm might be incorrect," he says over coffee near the University of Adelaide. "There are a lot of very fundamental misconceptions out there and I think that is why the book has done so well because people have intuitively felt that something is not right."

How great for the planet, and for our consciences, if he were right. In these dangerous times it would be comforting to think that man-induced climate change was the result of confused thinking by a bunch of ill-informed scientists. Nothing left to do but turn on the shower and load up the Landcruiser.

Plimer set out in Heaven+Earth to destroy every argument that has ever been raised about human-induced climate change. It is a big claim. As the professor of astrophysics at the University of NSW, Michael Ashley, wrote earlier this month in The Australian, if true it would rank as one of the greatest discoveries of the century and would earn Plimer a Nobel Prize.

Plimer's reservations about climate science surfaced in 2001 with A Short History of Planet Earth which won awards and staked his claim to the belief that major climate change was a regular feature of life on the planet. The current temperature variations were nothing to worry about, he wrote, and carbon dioxide emissions were not to blame. Since then his thinking has evolved into a more aggressive check-list of rebuttals to the accepted wisdom on climate change and global warming. He says his truths - he won't use the word beliefs because that is too unscientific - are found in the earth, in the timelessness of geology where millions of years of climate change is written in the layers of stone, and in the negligible relative scale of human impact. It is comforting reading.

Are the speed and amount of climate change unprecedented? No, says Plimer.

Is dangerous warming occurring? No.

Is the temperature range observed in the 20th century outside the range of normal variability? No.

Most credible scientific bodies have accepted the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's assessments that the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is rising. Using peer-reviewed science from experts in the study of atmospheric gases and global temperatures, the IPCC accepted evidence of galloping global warming.

So who is Plimer to know more than they do? Aged 62 and with the dishevelled air of a busy academic, Plimer is a former Professor of Geology at Melbourne University who moved to Adelaide three years ago to become Professor of Mining Geology. Plimer says he chose Adelaide because of the co-operation between the University of Adelaide, the Department of Primary Industry and Resources, and the mining industry.

"I looked into it a bit further and I couldn't believe government, industry and the universities were working together as closely as that," he says. "By contrast, the University of Melbourne is quite poisonous in terms of anyone who had anything to do with industry."

Those who have hinted that Plimer has close ties to industry need only to ask; he does. He holds directorships with two mining companies, but claims with a hint of irritation that this does not affect the independence of his beliefs.

His mining interests grew out of a long association with Broken Hill. Plimer arrived there as a young man in the late 1960s and worked underground at North Broken Hill before moving into the science of mining, metallurgy and exploration. He owns a house in Broken Hill and one west of Silverton. Plimer is a director of CBH Resources, a Sydney-based mineral resource company with a mine at Cobar and an underground mine in Broken Hill. He is also a director of Ivanhoe Resources, which has a large ore body outside Cloncurry in Queensland.

This commercial interest in mining, according to Plimer, does not colour his arguments, which he says are based on pure science. His line is that the speed of light remains the same no matter who funds the research, and he is annoyed at being regularly questioned about his interests when, he says, other public figures like Professor Ross Garnaut, who is chairman of Lihir Gold, are not.

"Some of the major physical features of the planet don't change depending on who funds it," Plimer says. "Cosmic radiation drives a lot of climate. Now, it doesn't matter who funds work on cosmic radiation - it was originally done by Bell telephone. I think that it's a fallacious argument that you get a required result, and especially if the research is published, because it undergoes a review process."

But ordinary people must make judgments based on who they can trust. Better, then, to disclose a personal interest when opposing the Rudd Government's emissions trading scheme, which he has done more than once? "Well, I say very little about the emissions trading scheme, in fact I don't think I say anything about it there at all because it's a book of science," he says, tapping his book.

But Plimer recently wrote in The Australian that primary producers should be "very worried about an emissions trading scheme underpinned by incomplete science". Late last year he told the ABC's Lateline business program the scheme would create massive unemployment and lead to a change of government. In neither case were his mining directorships mentioned.

"The same argument you would have to say to the ABC; here you have the ABC who are funded by government," he says. "You have all the environment groups and it's very much in their interests to frighten people witless and go around rattling the can and getting more money, but that is never declared." Plimer comes to the climate change debate with another barrow to push. He is a sceptic opposed to certain kinds of orthodoxy. He argues this is a default position; he is a scientist and scepticism underpins science. But he pursues those who disagree and in the 1990s he took creationist minister Dr Allen Roberts to the Federal Court in an attempt to prove his claims about Noah's Ark wrong. According to Plimer, any "bushie" could have looked at the site in Turkey and known there were features of geology that explained the boat-shaped mass.

So why not just shrug off the claim as ludicrous, as most people did?

"Because it was a fraud," he says. "The punters were being told that Noah's Ark had been found, they were paying money to hear this. They claimed that science underpinned these claims and it was fraud." The outcome of the Federal Court case was not clear-cut but Plimer says he won. "The battle that we won hands down, and wanted to win, was the public one," he says. "I wanted people to associate the word 'creationism' with the thought that, hang on, this might be a bit dodgy." The Australian Sceptics were so impressed they made Plimer a life member.

Plimer says he wrote his book for the nameless mass of people he calls punters, who knew they were being fed hype. "They are getting talked down to by pompous, arrogant scientists and getting moralising thrown at them by various radio and television networks. They know that something is wrong but they can't put their finger on it," he says.

Plimer, genial in person but contemptuous of anyone with an opposing view, portrays his science as being above politics but buys willingly into the political debate. "It is very hard to politicise earthquakes and volcanoes and the way ice moves," he says in one breath. And in another: "I mean I'm pretty sure (Liberal climate change spokesman) Greg Hunt wouldn't believe in me on the conservative side of politics, and (Opposition Leader) Malcolm Turnbull wouldn't." What about Liberal Senator Nick Minchin? "He does, there is no doubt about that. Now I think that is very healthy that in the one party there is division. In Labor there is also division. This is the first time we have had a great spectrum of information that can underpin a debate."

Among other scientists, Plimer is all but out in the cold. Across the corridor from Plimer is the university's Professor of Climate Change, Barry Brook, who disagrees with him completely and contributed to a systematic online rebuttal of the book ( Plimer retaliates by saying Brook is a biologist who has done good work on the extinction of mega-fauna but his vision is too narrow.

The attack by astrophysicist Michael Ashley, based on the same body of pure science to which Plimer claims strict adherence, was a stinging rebuttal of the book's claims and credentials. Plimer, self-belief to the fore, does not accept there have been legitimate scientific inroads made into his argument or the book. Ashley's critique ignored the history of the planet, Plimer says, and made errors regarding the IPCC and carbon dioxide. "Nothing but grandstanding. He's a joke, it was quite amusing," Plimer says. "Academics fight very hard about trivial things."

Plimer's minority position does not worry him. Science was never about consensus and as a geologist, he says, he has the bigger planetary view. "No one has ever lined up a scientist against me who deals with the breadth of the planet," he says. "People might cherry pick this or cherry pick that but they are not dealing with the holistic view of the planet."

As for the impact of the criticism so far: "I am being beaten around the head by a feather, a pink feather," he says. "Every time my critics bathe me in their vitriol, ad hominem attacks and pretentious pomposity, sales increase."